My brother, whom I used to think was a decent guy, made it clear to me that he was on the side of the baker who wouldn’t bake for a gay couple in the recent Supreme Court case. He told me he was worried about the rights of Christians.
He doesn’t even go to church! Now he’s gloating about the Supreme Court on a Facebook post, saying that the United States is going in the right direction.
How am I supposed to have a relationship with him? He is making it clear to me, his lesbian sister, that he doesn’t give a damn about LGBT rights or women’s rights. When I’ve raised this with him, he makes a big deal out of having flown all the way across the country to be at my wedding five years ago, saying, “How can you say I don’t support you?”
But that means nothing to me, given that he’s supporting a Supreme Court composition that could sweep away protections that keep me safe. And forget about just me. I’m seeing that my brother’s politics are all about supporting those who are making this country hateful and bigoted.
I am a believer in “family” and I think the current polarization and divisiveness are horrible. If no one will talk to the other side, how are we ever going to get out of this?
On the other hand, I don’t want to have anything to do with this guy who is celebrating the increased threat level to my well-being. I hate all this hostility which now is infecting me!
Given that your brother did attend your wedding a few years back, is it possible he is open to considering your point of view, despite his current actions?
If so, I know that it’s awfully difficult to respond to someone who appears to speak from ignorance or bigotry while remaining as calm and respectful as you can manage. But the better you are able to do so, the more likely to reach your brother and influence him, even a bit.
Of course, sometimes it just isn’t possible to have an impact on the way that other people see the world. And sometimes change takes a long time.
Whether or not you are able to influence your brother’s thinking at present, you might decide that there’s enough good between you two to continue a relationship with important disagreements put to the side. Or you might decide you don’t want someone in your life who is taking the stance your brother takes and make the break. The choice is yours alone to make.
With regard to your feeling overwhelmed and infected by the hostility that is now saturating our country: You are far from alone in this predicament. When we’re coming under fire, it’s difficult not to lash out and be furious. But letting ourselves be overwhelmed by hostility and bitterness is bad for our physical health and our sanity.
Is there a way to fight fiercely for a more just and livable world without becoming hateful toward those who oppose us and the things we hold dear? While that’s a narrow line to tread, I do believe it is possible, at least much of the time.
I can’t tell you exactly how to do this, but I can point you in the right direction: Set a standard for how you think and act, and then aspire, one day at a time, to meet that standard. You’ll have to keep a close eye on yourself. And don’t get angry at yourself when you fail. Just keep aspiring to do your best.
Aspiring not to be consumed by malice does not mean tolerating disrespect or letting yourself be kicked around. So if your brother (or anyone) is putting you down or insulting you, you certainly don’t have to politely accept that treatment.
Whatever you choose to do about your brother, please don’t give in to hopelessness. We really will be lost if we give up the battle for a better future. Taking action is the antidote to feeling powerless, so I urge you to find ways to fight for what you care about. Pour your anger and your energy into moving our country and our planet in a positive direction.
And on Nov. 6, vote!
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT individuals and couples in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@michaelradkowsky.com.